Jonathan Oppenheimer. Picture: SUPPLIED
Jonathan Oppenheimer. Picture: SUPPLIED

The SA Future Trust (SAFT), the brainchild of Nicky and Jonathan Oppenheimer to help distressed small businesses survive the lockdown, has approved loan applications for the entire R1.125bn it now has available.

The Oppenheimers’ initiative to help small enterprises survive the lockdown is fully committed. SAFT was established by the patriarchs of the family to help small businesses survive the lockdown by providing interest-free loans to pay a portion of employees’ wages over a period of 15 weeks.

“The banks processed the applications and took credit decisions on behalf of the trust, while SMEs decided which employees were most vulnerable and eligible for relief. The thing that guts me is that there are thousands of businesses out there that we won’t be able to assist,” says Jonathan Oppenheimer.

Applications were processed through the country’s largest banks, allowing the trust to approve the funds in a period of 20 workings days from inception.

Oppenheimer attributed the rapid approval of the loans down to the collaboration of stakeholders, the government, legal teams and the banks, which allowed the scheme to launch  successfully within two weeks of its announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The trust said it received more than 38,000 applications for the relief for which it has approved loans of R1.2bn to 12,000 small, medium and microenterprises (SMMEs). 

The number of businesses applying for relief reflects the damage being felt across the economy with some economists forecasting GDP could contract by as much as 16%.

Oppenheimer agrees with the president that the country is facing an existential threat.

“I think the country has done an excellent job at confronting the primary effects of the pandemic. But we really need to think carefully about the next move, because if we don’t get it right we risk switching off the economic engine completely,” says Oppenheimer.

The Oppenheimers donated R1bn to the trust, which will be used to assist and help grow small businesses once any funds are repaid.

In addition to the initial donation, the trust raised a further R125m from third parties that included philanthropists associated with Allan Gray.

As of Tuesday, loans had been concluded with 7,500 SMMEs involving a commitment of R800m, which should benefit more than 70,000 employees.

The average business that has received assistance has turnover of less than R25m per annum and employs on average 10 people.

The second phase of the trust will see any repaid money being used to further assist and grow small businesses.

Oppenheimer is putting together a small team that will evaluate the best way to continue assisting the sector. This could be through concessionary loans, equity investments, or investment in skills and research & development.